I want to recover from depression someday. If you have depression, you probably do as well. Depression sucks. So does a lot of advice on how to handle it. Well-meaning friends and family who’ve never experienced depression and its painful, boring drudgery offer up gems such as think positive thoughts or buck up, lots of people have it worse than you.
When all joy you feel is weak and fleeting, when you can only sleep for three hours or thirteen hours and nothing in between, when you want to burst into tears for no reason, and you feel like you don’t mean anything to anyone—words like that don’t help. Here’s a compilation of tips and advice that hopefully don’t suck.
1. Get medicated. Antidepressants can make you feel dramatically better with only a small amount of effort on your part. That’s not to say it’s easy to find the right medication. There are several classes of antidepressants and they all fiddle with different neurotransmitters (hormones) in the brain, and thus have different effects and side effects. Plus, everyone’s brain and body react differently to every drug.
You can improve your odds of finding the right match by knowing what you want and don’t want in an antidepressant. Need something that won’t worsen your anxiety? Is sexual dysfunction a big concern for you? Let your doctor know. Doing your own research on different antidepressants’ effects doesn’t hurt either. After starting a new medication, try to stick to it, even if the side effects are unpleasant. Sometimes they will taper off over the course of a month or so. It also takes a similar amount of time for the therapeutic effects to fully kick in. However, if your mood doesn’t improve, there’s no shame in going back to your doctor and asking for something different.
2. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Though great in the moment, getting high or drunk seldom offers a solution and will likely result in other problems. Alcohol is also a depressant to the nervous system, so it can exacerbate your condition. As well, if you’re on antidepressant medication, it’s best to limit your drinking. If you think you have a problem quitting alcohol or drugs, talk to your doctor.
3. Get moving. This is an annoying suggestion that everyone’s heard before, but exercise is good for you. It boosts immunity, and a hit of endorphins feels plain awesome. If you’re a student at VIU, you already have a gym membership. Our gym is pretty well-equipped, so I say give it a go. The Internet is filled with workout guides—YouTube is a great resource if you don’t know what to do. Or, you could bring someone with you who knows their way around. If you’re anxious about strangers staring at you, go early— fewer people are there at 7 am on a weekday. If you don’t want to go to the gym, that’s fine too. Even the act of going outside for a walk around the block is therapeutic. Doing anything is better than doing nothing at all.
4. Seek out a counsellor. Talking to a stranger about your problems is not as bad as you’d think. Really. Having regular appointments with a counsellor gives you a chance to get stuff off your chest. A friend or family member is another good option, but if you’re talking to someone who cares about you, they may feel compelled to offer advice or provide a solution, and when you’re mentally ill, sometimes there aren’t easy solutions to problems. Island Mental Health at the Brooks Landing Mall offers free walk-in counselling sessions.
5. Don’t get into a relationship for the wrong reasons. When depression tells you that you’re not worth the air you breathe, it’s easy to let people take advantage of you. It is never good to accept mistreatment or to stay in relationships—or friendships—that are unhealthy or one-sided. You deserve to be around people who treat you with respect and kindness. Cutting people out of your life who don’t treat you well will greatly improve your mental health.
Even if you aren’t in an unhealthy relationship, it’s important to stay mindful regarding what you are getting out of the relationship. Obviously, you spend time with people you love because they make you feel good, but it’s important not to become dependent on them for happiness. Relationships make life feel new, exciting, and spending time with a loved one is invigorating, but love alone won’t fix your problems.
On the flip side, I don’t believe that one needs to love themselves first before they can love someone else. Sometimes, a loving relationship can help you learn to love yourself. But even if you don’t love yourself, it is vital to maintain your own identity that’s separate from anyone else and to nurture it as best as you can.
6. Take care of yourself physically. There are three parts to this. First, don’t isolate yourself. Humans are social creatures. Face-to-face interaction is the soul’s bread and butter. No matter how crappy you feel, try and meet up with people.
Second, try to stay clean. You’ll feel better about yourself and be more productive. Even if you just sit in the shower for a few minutes and cry, go for it. Getting dressed in nice clothes will also make you feel better.
Third, try to make actual nutritious meals. Your brain eats what you eat. And try to sleep around the same time every night. Do these things, and you should be able to ‘fake it ’til you make it,’ as the saying goes.
7. Engage your brain. Sick of letting your neurons atrophy as you lie in bed for the fifth hour in a row, staring blankly at the wall and wondering why you were cursed with depression? Too paralyzed to even open a book? Well, that’s where podcasts can help. Listening to a podcast keeps your brain occupied so you’ll be less able to ruminate and fall in deeper. There is a podcast for everyone. “This American Life” is great if you enjoy real-life stories. Want to find out how other people handle their struggles and mental illnesses? “The Mental Illness Happy Hour” is amazing. If your interests lean towards the fantastical escapist, “The Adventure Zone” follows a thoroughly entertaining Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Listening to slam poetry or sad music can also help. This may sound counterintuitive, but hearing words that reflect what you feel is validating and makes you feel less alone.
8. Ask for help. If at all possible, enlist someone’s aid in clearing your weeks-old dirty laundry off the floor and scrubbing the crusties out of the dishes you’ve left strewn under it. Make sure to help yourself as well. Don’t take on more than you can handle. If you need to take fewer classes or work fewer hours, and if it is possible to do so, do it. You deserve to relax.
9. Don’t blame yourself for being depressed. It’s not your fault. You are not weak, you are not lazy, and you are not alone. However, even on your worst days, it’s important to maintain responsibility for things you do—or don’t do. Don’t use your mental illness as an excuse to treat people badly. You can’t control your mood, but you can control your actions.
10. Don’t lose hope. Don’t stop fighting. Try everything you can to get better and don’t stop until you find what helps you.
Reader, I hope my list is of some use to you. And if not—you made an effort to seek help, and for that, I applaud you. Best of luck to you on your road to recovery.